Budget 2019: War Memorial’s inside track once again plus still more spending on World War I centenary

Update 4 April 2019: a perceptive Budget comment in Eureka Street from Esther Anatolitis.

Australian War Memorial

Last night’s Budget had better news for the Australian War Memorial than for other national cultural institutions. The Budget provides for 12 extra staff for the Memorial, ‘with the government saying the staff are needed for the start of the controversial redevelopment plan and extra visitor numbers’, according to Sally Whyte’s report. Other national cultural institutions receive modest funding increases with the National Library and Questacon faring best.

The ‘controversial redevelopment plan’ for the Memorial features in the Budget as follows under ‘Capital measures’ (rounded): 2019-20: $26.2m; 2020-21: $36.7m; 2021-22: $31.6m; 2022-23: $65.6m. Honest History’s views on this extravagant and unnecessary project are elsewhere on our site, but this is how the Memorial puts the case.

The Memorial’s Redevelopment Project, funded by Government on 1 November 2018, will address pressing commemorative, exhibition, archive and storage needs. It will provide the necessary and appropriate facilities for the Memorial to record and tell the stories of the more than 100,000 Australians who have served on operations in East Timor, Afghanistan or Iraq and on numerous peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. It will also see the Memorial create dedicated spaces for veterans and their families to retreat to areas of quiet reflection and to contemplate upon their service. It will ensure the Memorial is not a place only to remember the dead but to honour and help those who have returned from service in our name, in our uniform and under our flag.

A further paragraph expresses the Memorial’s commitment to (some would say ‘obsession about’) acquiring and displaying items of decommissioned military kit:

Collecting in this period will continue to be driven by the availability of large technology and other equipment used by members of the Australian Defence Force over a generation of operations in war and in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. Collection decisions will be informed by close co-operation with the ADF including joint deployments by Memorial curators to current areas of operation to identify and collect objects, records and stories to enhance Australia’s understanding of areas of operation and activity. These collecting activities are supported by the opening of the new “Treloar E” storage facility at Mitchell for large technology objects.

The Memorial’s promotional video about its extensions shows that a good proportion of the new space will be taken up with this kit. The Memorial’s FAQ sheet steers away from this aspect of the build but peddles again the popular Veterans’ Affairs furphy about comparative expenditure. ‘The redevelopment project funding is less than one per cent of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs budget and even less of the overall Defence budget.’ As Honest History has said a number of times, most of the DVA budget (around $11.5b annually) is locked in by legislation and the appropriate comparison is with discretionary spending in the portfolio. Comparing capital with operating expenditure is also dubious.

The Memorial also foreshadows a temporary exhibition (October 2019-September 2020) on Australia’s role in peacemaking, peacekeeping and conflict prevention. ‘This exhibition will explore not only the work of the Australian Defence Force but also their partners in the Australian Federal Police and, the diplomatic efforts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to bring aid, stability in pursuit of peace within troubled areas across the world and specifically within our region.’

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Surprisingly, spending on ‘Commemoration of Australians who served overseas in World War I’ still rates a line of its own in the Budget material, with $3.0m of Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) money being spent in 2019-20 on Anzac Day services at Gallipoli and Villers-Bretonneux (including for security) plus $0.5m ‘for a scoping study for a commemorative site centred on the former site of an Australian Field Hospital on the Greek Island of Lemnos’. This total of $3.5m takes Anzac centenary spending by the Commonwealth to $354.5m and total spending by Commonwealth, States and Territories and corporate to $589.5m but we continue to round it up to $600m, because we suspect we have missed some recent spending by the States and Territories.

DVA measures also include a 2.6 per cent increase in support to veterans and their families, with emphasis on easier access to services, particularly online, and around $32m for programs in employment, medical treatment, transition to civilian employment, and domestic violence victim support. There is also new expenditure ($2.1m) on check-ups for potential sufferers of adverse effects of anti-malarial drugs during service.

Sources: Budget Paper No. 2: Budget 2019-20: Part 2: Expense Measures, especially pp. 87-88, 91-92; Minister’s media release; Portfolio Budget Statements 2019-20: Defence Portfolio (Department of Veterans’ Affairs), especially p. 172; Sally Whyte in Nine (Fairfax) papers.

David Stephens

3 April 2019 updated

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